Category Archives: Small Cells

Carrier Spending Keeping Tower Cos. Busy

By Jennifer Fritzsche…

We recently conducted our quarterly channel checks with RF engineers and other network contacts in our Rolodex to get a touch point on the current spending environment in the wireless arena and how it will affect the tower companies. Recall that these contacts’ revenue trends tend to have a 15- to 18-month lead time on the tower companies’ business, and that more than 90 percent of the annual revenue is booked on the first day of the year. There tend to be few surprises. That said, we always find these checks helpful as they give us a good idea of the pace of spending and who is doing what. Our checks offer a bullish outlook for the tower companies’ near- and longer-term revenue trends.



Big Red: the Consistent Tortoise in the Race Our checks suggest that VZ [Verizon Wireless] continues to be the steady Eddie of the Big Four. Making the analogy from the children’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, one contact compared VZ to the tortoise in the tale and reminded us of the lesson of the fable — slow and steady wins the race! All the RF engineering contacts we spoke with indicated VZ has its hands in everything right now: new builds, further expansion of its LTE network, dark fiber draws to the cell site, AWS spectrum deployment and small cell/DAS deployment. This last comment was most interesting, as we have heard AT&T speak more publicly about its small cell effort, whereas checks would indicate VZ has been just as focused.

AT&T — Slower in Small Cell Effort, Still Very Busy on Network Our checks suggest that T (AT&T) is slightly behind its original targets in deploying small cells. Recall that in November 2012, as part of its Project VIP effort, AT&T outlined plans to deploy 40,000 small cells in the three-year period from 2013 to 2015. It is our understanding that T wants to deploy multi-modal/multi-technology small cells, which have HSPA/LTE/Wi-Fi capabilities. Our checks suggest that it has taken longer than expected to get this equipment from the OEMs. That said, our channel checks show that AT&T remains very busy on the DAS side of the house. T has its own small cell solutions group. Like VZ, T also remains very aggressive on deploying its recently acquired AWS spectrum assets and doing many in-fill additions to its macro-site network to further increase the density of its network footprint.

Sprint and T-Mobile Going Slowly but Ramp Is Expected in Second Half 2014, 2015 Sprint and TMUS [T-Mobile US] have been a bit slower than expected in terms of spending, according to our checks. In the case of Sprint, while its target for 100 million covered POPs of 2.5-GHz spectrum by year-end has not changed (either publicly with Wall Street or in communication with its engineers), the deployment of the equipment has been slow in coming. It is unclear where the issue is, but our contacts indicated it has been about six months behind the delivery schedule originally suggested by the OEMs at the early part of 2013.

In the case of TMUS, it seems it is finishing up its network modernization now and ramping up its spending on its recently acquired A block 700-MHz spectrum. We note that both of these upcoming initiatives (700 A Block deployment by TMUS and the 2.5-GHz deployment by Sprint) were not reflected in the tower companies’ 2014 guidance in a meaningful way. Although we expect some effect from this spending in the second half of 2014, a more significant contribution to tower companies’ revenue trends may occur in 2015.

So What Is the Bottom Line for Tower Companies? While S and TMUS could be more active, we believe AT&T and VZ have been more than active enough to keep the tower companies busy! A few of our contacts indicated some concern that we could see a repeat of last year when all the work that needed to be done got compressed into a shorter time frame. In our view, although this could lead to resource constraints (like we saw at the end of 2013), this pent up demand bodes very well for the tower companies’ 2015 and beyond outlook.

We believe the biggest domestic tower theme that seems to be shaping up for 2015 is definitely small cells. One contact we spoke to indicated that with legacy DAS, nodes needed to be spaced every three or so city blocks. With low-power small cells, these may be deployed every few hundred feet — suggesting, on average, four times the density now seen. In our view, this is hugely positive for the tower companies participating in this arena (CCI and AMT especially). To explore this theme further, Wells Fargo will be hosting a Small Cell Symposium (one-day conference) in New York on July 24.


Jennifer Fritzsche is a managing director in the Equity Research Department at Wells Fargo Securities, where she has focused on the Telecommunications Services sector since 1999.

Report Pinpoints Triggers for $10B Small Cell Market


An industry report predicts a $10 billion market for small cells in 2018, and provides a scientific formula for the tipping point when mass deployments may occur. Small Cells 2014 from Mobile Experts provides analysis of small cells in mobile networks, highlighting the technical and economic factors that drive the use of femtocells, picocells and microcells in various applications, plus the combination of small cells and Wi-Fi.

“This report includes interviews with 30 different mobile operators around the world, getting their views of small cells, why they need them, where they need them, how many they need. We then compare that with how many chipsets are being shipped from the semiconductor manufacturers, and then we reconcile the two,” Joe Madden, Mobile Experts principal said.

In the past, the firm simply estimated how many cells would be deployed based on the capabilities of the technology, but now it has fine-tuned its forecast using a metric that looks at gigabits per second per square kilometer per megahertz of spectrum.

“If you reach a certain threshold, which we estimate to be .02 gbps per square kilometer per megahertz, in that density measurement, macrocell towers and base stations are not enough anymore. You need to do something indoors. That could be carrier Wi-Fi, DAS or small cells,” Madden said.

Mobile Experts bases its estimates in part on what it has witnessed in Korea. “During 2013, the deployment of 200,000 small cells in Asia validated the accuracy of our forecasting in the past five years. This year, we’ve added revenue analysis and more quantitative trigger points into our forecast based on real-world examples in Korea,” Madden said.

With really dense mobile traffic, high-rise buildings, crowded neighborhoods and a lot of video downloads in a very small space, there are places in Seoul that are up to .1 gbps/square kilometer/megahertz.

“That is well beyond the trigger point. They are putting in a mixture of indoor remote radio heads, carrier Wi-Fi and small cells. That is how you get to the 200,000 units that are in the field right now,” Madden said.

One big difference between the United States and South Korea is that the U.S. has almost twice the spectrum allocated for wireless, so there is less pressure for operators to deploy small cells. The U.S. reaches the data levels of South Korea during special events, such as the Super Bowl.

Operators have changed their thinking concerning the business case for cell site development. It used to be dollars per square kilometer of coverage, but now it is more about dollars per megahertz per second capacity. Small cells, according to the operators, have a five-to-one cost advantage compared with macrocells when considering dollars per incremental capacity versus dollars per kilometer of coverage.

“The whole idea of putting up a rooftop site with a full base station at a cost of $100,000 is not a very good business case anymore,” Madden said. “It is much better to think in terms of indoor small cells, where it is inexpensive with available backhaul.”

Madden commented that the concept of a small cell designed to handle multiple operators is a non-starter. He said the multi-operator small cell play will involve the combination of small cells and DAS technology.

“The capacity of small-cell technology has grown to the point where it makes economic sense for operators to deploy small cells at the headend of the DAS, instead of a macro base station,” he said.

Mobile Experts also looked at low-power remote radio heads (RRH) attached to centralized RANs, known as the precursors of the cloud RAN. The firm compared the drivers for small cells versus the drivers for low-power RRH and the balance between the two in the global marketplace.

“Some operators will like low-power RRHs because they can use advanced features to maximize capacity,” Madden said. “It requires a CPRI interface and fiber between the baseband processor and the radio head itself. It is the Cadillac solution.” Other operators will like the more utilitarian, low-cost angle of using small cells with less-expensive backhaul, he added.



From Radisys Comes a Dual-mode Small Cell


By Ernest Worthman…

Radisys has struck a deal with Broadcom to integrate its Trillium TOTALeNodeB 2.0 small cell software with Broadcoms 617xx Series dual-mode system-on-chip (SoC) solutions. This integrated product enables mobile operators to deploy a dual-mode LTE-FDD/LTE-TDD small cells.

What makes this interesting is that the solution can add needed bandwidth and coverage for subscribers, while maximizing spectral efficiency. The solution is set for a test run in China sometime in the first half of this year. Wireless networking provider Z-Com, based in Taiwan, will be using the solution in TDD-LTE trials for China Mobile in the coming months, with “an initial focus on the enterprise small cell market.”

“We continue to see momentum for our TotaleNodeB small cell software for LTE-TDD deployments, particularly with our customers in Asia such as Z-Com, and Broadcom’s 617xx series small cell silicon is ideally suited for LTE-TDD based small cells,” Todd Mersch, Radisys’ general manager of software and solutions, said in a prepared statement.


Ernest Worthman is the editor of the AGL Small Cell magazine, an AGL Media Group publication

Will Utilities Provide Home for Small Cells?

Is the marriage of wireless and the utility infrastructure a golden opportunity for urban small cell siting? Utility pole attachments offer both great potential and the potential for great frustration, according to the members of the Strengthening Your Business in the Wireless Industry,  Today and Tomorrow panel.

Bret Kilbourne


The more utilities and wireless companies know about each other the better we will be able to work with each other, according to Kilbourne. “Right now it seems like a pretty significant gap between us. UTC is trying to bridge that gap through Utilisite Council,” he said.

One big gap is the use of union labor. Most utilities are unionized, while tower service companies are not, according to Joe Ryan, CTI Towers, VP, acquisitions.

“Using union labor from the utilities might be seen as an insult to the tower companies,” he said.

Ryan said working with utilities is probably not that different from working with Comcast, which is a company that is very process oriented as well.

“There have been telecommunications that partnered successfully with utilities,” he said.

“Diamond Communications successfully partnered with utilities. We would definitely be good partners. It just takes understanding each other needs.”

Utilities will play a major role in deploying future technologies based on small cell technologies, according to Jake MacLeod, Gray Beards Consulting.

“Pole attachments give you the backhaul and the power,” he said. “Consequently, if you are able to place a radiator on the pole that doesn’t interfere with the existing devices on the pole, it is a wonderful solution. Wireless pole attachments have been tried in a number of cities. Success has been limited, however, because of political and technical issues.” 

Small Cells Key to Future Carrier Networks, Nashville Panelists Say


Panelists described small cells as anything and everything that is smaller than a macrosite, and agreed that further definition was needed as well as a greater understanding of the deployment complexities, during “Small Cells…Big Deal,” a panel at the AGL Conference, March 20, in Nashville.

“The challenge is defining exactly what is a small cell and how do you put it into a box so everybody understands it,” Seth Jones, Sprint senior manager, network engineering, said. “It is not quite baked yet. We are looking for further guidance from PCIA concerning the definition. It has an impact on zoning laws and how regulators look at what you are trying to deploy.”

Seth-Jones-Sprint-022014 (3)


At the Gaylord Opryland Resort, panelists from three major carriers — AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint — and an equipment manufacturer, SpiderCloud, discussed how multi-band, multi-protocol small cells are a necessity for carriers, because they are constantly worried about exhausting their spectrum.

“We have to innovate very aggressively to make sure we have the tools to keep up the capacity offload systems, which demand multi-band, multi-protocol small cells,” Jones said.

Small cells have evolved from consumer to IT-grade enterprise technology, similar to the evolution of Wi-Fi 15 years ago, according to Russell Agle, director of business development, SpiderCloud Wireless.

“Femtocells are akin to the consumer Wi-Fi market, good for residential use, but when you get to the dense, indoor deployments, particularly for enterprises, a separate architecture is needed,” Agle said.

Jones said that increasing spectral efficiency through macrocell splitting is simply not enough to keep up with the pace of today’s data traffic.

“As carriers begin to talk almost casually about terabytes and petabytes of information, we cannot rely only on macrocells to provide all of our users with a great level of service,” Jones said. “We have to find another ways. We have to keep distributing the network and get smaller and smaller and smaller.”

Another challenge that the wireless industry faces is getting people to realize that small cells are not lick-it and stick-it technology.

“The early intoxicating idea was that all it took to deploy a small cell was to stick it on a wall and plug it in, and it would be fully integrated and self-discovered,” Jones said. “These technologies take a lot of integration work, a lot of network optimization.”

Panelists described smalls as being at the base of the “growth hockey stick.” In the next three years, carriers will deploy a huge number of metrocells, microcells, picocells, which will provide ample opportunities for the industry as a majority of that work will be outsourced, according to Melissa Ashurst, area business development manager, AT&T Antenna Services Group.

“AT&T is working with partners to design and deploy small cells,” Ashurst said. “It is not something just anyone can do.”